But what makes their wins so incredible is their story, who they are, where they came from, and how they became an inspiration to people everywhere – becoming living proof that, if you want something badly enough, nothing is impossible.
Born in Different Places
Even though they grew up together in Compton, a rough neighborhood in California, Venus and Serena were born in different states. Venus was born in 1980 in Lynwood, California, and shortly after, the family moved to their mother Oracene’s birthplace, in Saginaw, Michigan. A year later, in 1981, Serena was born.
Their parents, Richard Williams and Oracene Price had their hands full raising 5 girls (Isha, Yetunde, Lyndrea, Serena, and Venus), but they made sure their kids knew the importance of work ethics and determination, both in school and in sports. Richard was a tennis coach and Oracene was a nurse.
They Were Raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses
The sisters’ mother, Oracene Price, had become a Jehovah’s Witness back in 1980, and so she raised her daughters in the same faith. While Venus and Serena have always kept their religion private, they have said that it is still important to them to honor the basic tenets of the faith they grew up with.
This includes not celebrating birthdays or most holidays, keeping up with services, and putting in their hours doing door-to-door ministry.
The Williams Sisters Have Many Siblings
Serena and Venus are the only two daughters of Oracene Price and Richard Williams. However, they have three half-sisters from Oracene’s previous marriage - Lyndrea, Isha, and Yetunde, and another five half-brothers and sisters from Richard’s side - Richard III, Ronner, Sabrina, Chavoita, and Dylan Starr.
Out of their other 8 siblings, Venus and Serena are the only ones that played competitive sports. Their sisters Lyndrea and Isha are fashion merchandisers and attorneys, and little is known about Richard’s other children.
The fact that Serena and Venus’ father Richard was the greatest influence on them has never been a secret. Especially after the hit 2021 film, 'King Richard' came out portraying the Williams sisters’ childhood and how their father went above and beyond to pave their way for greatness.
Born in Louisiana, Richard moved to Michigan after finishing high school and met Oracene there. The couple moved to California and Richard started taking tennis lessons from a former coach named Oliver, better known as “Old Whiskey”. Oliver had once been a coach to tennis greats Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors, but his problem with alcohol ended his career short.
The Journey to Greatness Begins
Richard’s obsession with his daughters becoming tennis prodigies began after watching a tournament in 1978. Famous tennis player Virginia Ruzici had won the match and, with it, a check for $20,000.
Richard decided he wanted this for his daughters, and so he decided from that moment on that they would become the best professional tennis players the world had ever seen. He started coaching Venus and Serena when they were four and a half years old.
The Williams Move to Florida
By the time the girls were 11 and 10 years old, it became clear to Richard that Serena and Venus showed great talent on the tennis court. Richard managed to get the attention of world-renowned tennis coach Rick Macci and convinced him to go see his daughters play.
Macci was so impressed that he offered to train the girls for free in his academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. And so, in 1991, the Williams family relocated to the sunshine state.
Problems at the Academy
A few months after enrolling in the prestigious Macci Academy. Richard decided to pull his daughters out and coach them himself. He was getting increasingly worried that Serena and Venus would burn out from so much training and intense hours.
He had seen Jennifer Capriati, a girl who was also in the Academy and only a few years older than his daughters, completely fall apart from the pressure. Additionally, he wanted the girls to focus on their schoolwork and there was also a lot of discrimination going on at the academy.
Venus Goes Pro
The Williams sisters kept being coached by their father, while he homeschooled them so they could focus on their tennis as well. At the young age of 14, Venus went pro, after competing at the Bank of the West Classic tournament in Oakland, California. She beat Shaun Stafford, who was ranked 59 at the time and went on to the second round to play against Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.
After an extremely tight match, Vicario won. However, Venus left everyone in awe, cementing her place in the world of tennis as a force to be reckoned with.
The First US Open
Three years later, in April of 1997, Venus competed in her first US Open. She reached the finals and was only beaten by tennis pro, Martina Hingis. However, the young 17-year-old made history by becoming the first unseeded woman to make it to the finals in an Open competition since 1958.
In tennis, unseeded refers to a competitor that has not been ranked among the top 16 players by the tournament’s organizers.
A Breakthrough Year
Venus kept training like never before, and a short year later, in 1998, she made it to the quarterfinals of every single Grand Slam game she enlisted in. By the end of the year, Venus Williams was ranked the number five tennis player in the world.
As if that weren’t enough, it was also the first year in which Venus won the Grand Slam mixed doubles competition, alongside Justin Gimeslob. The 18-year-old had made it to the Top 10 list in record-breaking time.
Serena Stuns the World
While Richard Williams was focusing on Venus’s blossoming tennis career, Serena kept training with her mother, Oracene. In 1999, a 17-year-old Serena shocked the world by winning her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. The young teenager made her way to the semifinals by winning against Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, and Kim Clijsters.
She beat Lindsay Davenport in the women’s singles semifinals and finally defeated Swiss tennis legend Martina Hingis in a tense final match. Serena became one of the youngest female tennis players in history to ever win a Major Championship.
Venus Vs. Serena
The Williams sisters started to become important names in the world of women’s tennis, racking up astonishing wins against world-renowned tennis veterans. 1999 was also the first year when Serena played against sister Venus at the Key Biscayne finals tournament.
The event went down in history, becoming the first time that a Woman’s Tennis Association Tour featured two sister players. The crowds went crazy at the sight of two young prodigies playing against each other. Venus defeated Serena in three separate sets.
The 2000 Sydney Olympics
The Williams sisters were 20 and 19 and on top of the world. They attended the famous Sydney Olympics in 2000 and Venus wiped out the competition at the women’s singles and doubles tournament.
Venus won a gold medal after defeating Elena Dementieva, Monica Seles, and Sanchez Vicario – all tennis legends. When it came to the women’s doubles competition, she partnered with her sister Serena and the pair won after an exciting match.
Venus Makes History
Two years after the Sydney Olympics, in 2000, Venus made history by becoming the first black woman to rank as the world’s number one tennis player. Venus had been winning Grand Slams left and right in previous years and she finally got recognition for it.
When the press interviewed young Venus, the humble player mentioned Althea Gibson, another tennis prodigy that had a stellar career in the 50s and 60s, before there were official world rankings for players. “More than anything, I just feel proud to represent America in my sport.”, she said.
Serena’s Other Passion
Apart from tennis, Serena had another “great love”: fashion. After her big win in the 2000 Sydney Olympics alongside her sister Venus, Serena decided to enroll in fashion school at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She kept playing tennis regularly and never stopped training.
Serena noticed early on that her forte in fashion school was pattern making since she’d always loved math and the technical side of things. When graduating in 2003, Serena launched a line of evening clothing.
Back to the Tennis Court
The fact that she was getting a degree didn’t deter Serena from winning major tennis tournaments. During her studies, in 2002, Serena won the U.S. Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon against her sister Venus. Then, a year later, she defeated Venus again in the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
The 2003 Australian Open was particularly historic since it was the first time ever that four consecutive Grand Slam competitions were fought for by the same two players - the Williams sisters.
Venus Starts an Empire
While Serena was killing it on the tennis courts, Venus was taking care of business – literally! In 2022, the business-savvy sister founded V Starr, a high-end interior design firm that worked with luxurious hotels, sports facilities, and million-dollar condos. The company’s first project was redesigning the home of former NBA player, Carlos Boozer.
Five years later, she would go on to launch EleVen By Venus Williams, a brand of activewear. Not only was she making millions in tennis, but she was also amassing a fortune by becoming a business mogul.
A Tragic Family Loss
As they grew up together, Serena and Venus were very close to their sisters Lyndrea, Isha, and Yetunde. On September 14th, 2003, Venus attended Fashion Week in New York and Serena filmed a cable series in Canada when they got an earth-shattering phone call.
Their older sister Yetunde had been tragically killed in Compton, California. She was 31 years old at the time and died when returning home with her fiancé. The Williams family fell apart.
The Yetunde Price Resource Center
The oldest sister, Yetunde had been the family rock and a personal assistant to both Venus and Serena, helping them at every turn of their career. A few months later, the Williams sisters created the Yetunde Price Resource Center, a nonprofit organization based in Compton that offers programs to “promote individual and community healing and resiliency after traumatic events”.
The Resource Center works with other partner organizations to help the families of people that are often the collateral damage of street gang confrontations.
Venus Gets Injured
The relentless hours of training and back-to-back competitions started to take their toll on Venus. From 2003 to 2005, Venus often suffered chronic pain from injuries sustained on the tennis court. This often forced her to leave a match early or forfeit in the middle of a competition. Venus also suffered from anemia, which made matters worse.
However, when she wasn’t having these setbacks, Venus performed like nobody else on the court, as was shown in her outstanding win at the 2005 Wimbledon Championship. Venus was down an entire match point and still managed to win, becoming the first woman in seventy years to achieve this.
Venus and Serena: The Reality Show
Since it aired for only one season, many people don’t know that the Williams sisters starred in their own reality TV show. The ABC series, Venus and Serena: For Real, followed the daily lives of the tennis stars, showing how they dealt with becoming sports superstars and pop culture icons.
The network only aired five episodes, but it was one of the first celebrity reality TV shows to appear on TV, way before the genre took over.
Fighting for Equal Pay
Venus made headlines when, after winning her fifth title at Wimbledon, she attended a Grand Slam committee meeting with Larry Scott, who was the CEO of the Woman’s Tennis Association back in 2005. For decades, there had been a policy in the Wimbledon Championships for men to be paid more than women.
Venus passionately argued against this at the meeting and even wrote an opinion article for the London Times in 2006 stating that “I feel so strongly that Wimbledon’s stance devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players”. A year later, Wimbledon changed its policy on prize money, making it equal for both genders.
As if making up for all previous losses, Venus made a stellar comeback in 2007. First, she made history at the French Open, by serving a ball that flew at 129mph, the second fastest by a woman ever recorded. Although she only made it to the third round in the French Open, Venus won the Wimbledon Championship that same year.
This made it Venus’s fourth win at Wimbledon, a feat only three other women tennis greats have achieved – Billy Jean King, Steffi Graf, and Martina Navratilova.
The 2008 Summer Olympics
By the end of 2007, on top of the series of major wins for Venus, the Williams sister also managed to get her associate degree in fashion design from The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, following in her sister’s footsteps. Then, Venus attended the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and left with a shiny gold medal to add to her collection.
She won in the women’s doubles category, teaming up with sister Serena. The pair beat Spanish tennis greats Virginia Pascual and Anabel Medina in the finals. Ironically, in the same year, Venus went on to win her fifth Wimbledon Championship against her sister Serena.
During the 2000s, it seemed hard to watch a tennis match that didn’t feature one or both Williams sisters. So logically, it was only a matter of time before they began playing against each other, which always made for an exciting match. In 2009, Venus was the runner-up against Serena’s win at Wimbledon for the third time.
All that didn’t keep her from winning the Grand Slam women’s doubles title with her sister. This took Venus all the way up to number five in the world rankings. Like they say if you can’t beat them, join them!
Serena Rises to the Top
Serena was at the height of her career, going on to win the 2009 and 2010 Australian Open and Wimbledon Championships. By the end of 2009, Serena was ranked the world’s number-one female player for the second time in her professional career.
It was also the year where she played a whopping 16 tournaments, more than in any of the previous years. However, she had a famously bad time at the 2009 U.S. Open.
The Williams Sisters Become Part-Owners of an NFL Team
It had become clear early on that Venus had a talent for business, founding her own interior design firm and creating her own clothing line, both were incredibly successful. But 2009 saw one of Venus’s boldest moves when she and Serena bought a stake in the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
This made the sisters the first Black women in history to have a stake in the NFL. They said happily, "We're South Florida girls. When we get off the road, this is where we come home to. When we come home to Dolphins games, it's going to be exciting”.
Serena is Fined Over $80K
The passion and dedication Serena played, would also translate outside of the courts. During a losing match with Kim Clijsters, Serena had a fit and slammed a racket, and shortly after, she insulted a lineswoman for calling out a foot fault. Serena went off the handle, saying very offensive remarks to the lineswoman, and in turn, got seriously reprehended.
Three months after the incident, Serna was hit with an astonishing fine of $82,500 and put on probation for two years. She also apologized to the lineswoman. To this day, it is still the biggest fine ever received by a tennis player in history.
A Bad Year for the Williams Sisters
Things took a sour turn for the sisters in 2011. Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system, kidneys, and lungs, causing a lot of muscle pain, general fatigue, and dry mouth and eyes. This obviously took a big toll on Venus’s ability to play, so she decided to take a break and only attend exhibition matches.
By the end of 2011, Venus’s ranking had gone to number 102. Meanwhile, Serena suffered from another medical condition that left her unable to play for the first half of the year, finally losing the U.S. Open to Australian player Samantha Stosur.
While Serena was breaking records winning the 2012 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, Venus was taking time off and getting treated for her condition. Fortunately, thanks to her treatment and switching to an all-vegan diet, she was able to make a speedy recovery by early 2012 and get back on the tennis court.
Even though Venus started off slow in singles matches, she won the Wimbledon women's doubles category alongside her sister Serena. That year also marked the sisters’ third gold medal win at the women’s doubles category in the Summer Olympics in London. Serena won the singles category against Maria Sharapova.
Venus Falls, Serena Rises
Venus was trying her best, but by the beginning of 2013, she was suffering from severe chronic pain from a back injury. This gave her no other choice but to forfeit dozens of competitions. She played some good matches, but ultimately, she didn’t win a single title that year.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams was getting more unstoppable by the match, winning the 2013 French Open and U.S. Open. She championed the clay court season, reaching a winning percentage of 95%, the highest since 1990. Serena surpassed the $10 million prize money for women tennis players that year, making over $12 million.
A Surprising Win in Dubai
To everyone’s surprise, Venus Williams defeated French tennis legend, Alize Cornet, at the Dubai Tennis Championships in February 2014. Winning the women’s singles meant making it to the world’s Top 10 Tennis players in the singles category.
Venus hadn’t made it to this list since 2010 before her health problems started. Logically, this was a groundbreaking moment for the American tennis legend, and the fact that her sister Serena won the U.S. Open that year was even more cause for celebration.
Serena Drops Out Mid-Season
In 2015, Serena won the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. She did all this while suffering from painful injuries, in her elbow, her knee, and even her heart. Finally, after a brutal defeat by Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals, Serena decided to drop out.
She left behind what was left of the season that year, missing the China Open and the WTA Finals in Singapore. She explained that her wish was to compete as well as she can, for as long as she can so she took a proactive step.
Venus Gets a Second Degree
2015 saw many achievements for Venus. Among them, was finally obtaining her Bachelor’s in Sciences in Business Administration from Indiana University East. She managed to finish the degree in the little spare time she had between practices and competitions.
Venus has stressed on more than one occasion the importance of education, citing her father who once said that “Too many Black athletes think sports is the only way out…. But sport is a vehicle to get an education. I'm looking for my kids to be well-balanced. I want them to be role models, but athletes are not great role models. I want to see them develop their education with their tennis”.
The Rio 2016 Summer Olympics
The 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro were another phenomenal win for Venus Williams. The athlete took home the Olympic silver medal for the mixed doubles category, playing alongside Rajeev Ram.
Meanwhile, Serena beat Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon, winning her 22nd major title in the women’s singles category. This tied Serena with tennis great Steffi Graff for the number of Grand Slam titles in the Open Era.
Venus Climbs Back to the Top 5
After all the setbacks due to her health issues, Venus finally reclaimed her spot in the Top five list of the world’s best players. She did this after defeating Angelique Kerber at the Miami Open quarterfinals, in 2017.
Not only did she reclaim her spot, but she also became the oldest player in history to defeat the then-number one player in the world for the women’s singles category. On the other hand, she lost against her sister Serena for the title in the Australian Open that year.
Serena Marries Her Sweetheart
Serena had been dating American internet entrepreneur, Alexis Ohanian for some time. In 2017, she tied the knot with the Reddit co-founder, and the rest, as they say, is history. The couple had a fairytale wedding at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, where Serena wore a spectacular ball gown dress by Alexander McQueen.
Guests included Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Anna Wintour, Ciara, La La Anthony, and many more. The venue was filled with gold birdcage chandeliers, huge flower arrangements, and gold, throne-like chairs for the newlyweds. There was also a surprise performance by New Edition.
Serena Wins a Grand Slam While Pregnant
It seems that being declared the world’s greatest tennis player wasn’t enough for Serena, so she decided to win a Grand Slam while pregnant to prove she was superhuman. In January 2017, Serena won the Australian Open against her sister Venus, and apparently, she’d just found out she was eight weeks pregnant right before the tournament started.
Apparently, Serena had taken a pregnancy test as a joke, to prove to a friend of hers that she was wrong about suspicions of the tennis player being pregnant.
Serena Becomes a Mom
Near the end of 2017, Serena and Alexis welcomed their baby daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Since then, Serena can always count on seeing her husband and baby girl in the crowd, cheering her on.
The family never misses a match, and the power couple has seemingly figured out a way to manage two extremely demanding professions and raise a daughter. Apart from tennis, Serena has developed a new passion: posting cute dancing videos of her and her daughter on Instagram.
Venus Finds Love
It seems that Venus was also on a love high in the year her sister got married. For Serena’s star-studded wedding, Venus brought billionaire Publishing heir, Nicholas Hammond. The two seemed to be very sweet to each other throughout the event.
Up until starting a relationship with Nicholas, Venus had dated pro golfer Hank Kuehne from 2007 to 2010, Cuban model Elio Pis from 2012 to 2015, and then met Nicky two years later.
Serena Starts a Fashion Label
Fashion had been one of Serena’s great loves for many years, and in 2018, she finally decided to do something about it. Serena started collaborating with brands like HSN and Nike, which together with her fashion degree gave her the inspiration to start Serena, her own clothing line.
The tennis pro said in an interview with Elle magazine that she wanted to create a brand of clothing that women felt confident in. Something chic and sexy that empowered women, not minimized them, as men-dominated industries often do. Furthermore, Serena wanted to have a backup plan for when she retired from tennis.
The Infamous 2018 U.S. Open
2018 was a rough year for Serena, losing the French and Australian Open, and Wimbledon. However, her performance at the U.S. Open that year was memorable for all the wrong reasons. In a very tense match against Naomi Osaka, Serena started going off on umpire Carlos Ramos, eventually calling him “a thief” for stealing a point from her.
This came after she had smashed a racquet to the ground, which finally resulted in her getting a point penalty, being docked a game, and getting fined $17,000. In the final match, Osaka won the title, but she ended up accepting it with tears in her eyes, as the crowd booed in support of an angry Serena.
Serena Apologizes for Her Behavior
In 2019, a year after the dramatic U.S. Open match against Osaka, Serena sent an apology to the Japanese tennis player for her behavior on the court. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar magazine, Serena explained, "I started seeing a therapist. I was searching for answers, and although I felt like I was making progress, I still wasn't ready to pick up a racket," Williams said.
She eventually realized that there was only one way for her to move forward. It was time for her to apologize to the person who deserved it the most. She knew she was in the wrong.
The Mother Who Played Four Grand Slams
Leave it to Serena Williams to be a new mother and go back to playing four Grand Slam events. The tennis legend finished as a runner-up in a couple of matches and ended the year by featuring in the Top 10.
Already having 23 Grand Slam titles, the new mom was in search of the 24th but didn’t quite make it. Still, Serena performed beautifully in all of her matches, proving that some women can actually do it all.
Venus Loses to a Teenager
In what was a jaw-dropping moment in sports, Venus was defeated by a 15-year-old teenager, American Coco Gauff. In the first round at the 2019 Wimbledon Championship, Gauff beat Venus by serving balls that flew at over 116mph. The young player secured a 6-4, 6-4 win, leaving the crowd in complete awe.
The match ended on a very nostalgic note after Venus humbly shook Gauff’s hand and the teenager said to her idol, with tears on her face, “Thank you for everything you’ve done. I wouldn’t be here without you.”
Venus’s 90th Grand Slam
Venus attended the 2021 Wimbledon Championship, marking her 90th Grand Slam appearance. In an impressive opening round, Venus defeated Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu in a three-set victory. What’s amazing is that Venus was 41 years old at the time, making her one of the world’s Top five oldest tennis players.
When asked what her secret was, Venus simply answered that she was good at what she did and that she knows how to handle challenges. She added that every point on the court was a challenge and she just took them as they came.
Best-selling Author Venus Williams
Apart from being the head of several very successful businesses, Venus is also a New York Times Bestselling author. Back in 2011, she published her book ‘Come to Win’, and is still selling copies.
The book made it to the Top five NY Times Bestseller list that year. Venus writes about how sports can help advance professional careers. She’s also written two earlier books, including “Venus and Serena: Serving from the Hip” and “How to Play Tennis”.
Counting the Fortune
In 2021, Venus Williams was ranked number three on the list of the world’s highest-paid female athletes that year. Forbes magazine estimated that the tennis legend had yearly earnings that surpassed $11 million, and that’s mostly from her other business ventures, not tennis!
The second place was awarded to Serena, with total yearly earnings of $45 million. Topping the list that year was Japanese tennis great, Naomi Osaka, with a fortune of over $57 million.
The Best Female Tennis Players in the World
Together, the Williams sisters have some of the most impressive statistics in the history of tennis. Serena has 73 women’s singles titles, Venus has 49. In the women’s doubles category, Serena leads with 23 titles and Venus with 22.
As for Grand Slams, Serena has an impressive 23 titles in the singles category, while Venus has 7. They each have two Olympic gold medals and 14 Grand Slams in the doubles categories.
Serena Announces Her Retirement
In August of 2022, Serena announced she was taking a step back from her tennis career. “I am not retired”, says the athlete, stressing that she doesn’t like that word. In a very intimate interview with Vogue magazine, Serena tells her story and how coming to the decision was one of the hardest things she’s ever faced.
She explains she wants to focus on her other businesses and have a second child, and she doesn’t want to be playing tennis pregnant again. Serena might be moving on, but she will always be the one who changed women’s sports forever.